Town & Gown: Ready, set, action!
This article was written by Emil Loeken, a graduate assistant in the Jacksonville State University Office of Public Relations

Do you have what it takes to become America’s next top film student? Have you ever dreamed about working on future box office sensations? Do you want to work among the film industry’s finest actors and actresses?

Last summer, six hopeful Jacksonville State University students went on a film study tour to beautiful Baton Rouge, La. The students received a scholarship through the Northeast Alabama Entertainment Initiative (NEAEI) covering all travel costs to Baton Rouge as well as three JSU credit hours. The film study aimed to focus on film production and post-production allowing the students to gain first-hand experience on both the JSU campus and in the Baton Rouge film community.

The story started with Peter Conroy, Director, JSU EPIC, Field Schools and Canyon Center Chairman, Northeast Alabama Entertainment Initiative and Chief Ladiga Trail Committee, who wanted to establish a film industry in Alabama. Creating such an industry is a complicated challenge. First, according to Conroy, one needs tax breaks and incentives for the motion picture business. Then, one needs a workforce including actors, actresses, light people, camera operators, accountants, and scriptwriters, among others. Finally, one needs projects.

In 2009, the NEAEI received news that the Alabama Entertainment Industry Initiative Act was passed to include, with the help of Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, and Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, a $500,000 appropriation to JSU.

In order to successfully establish the film program at JSU, Conroy looked to Hollywood veteran Jeffrey Nichols. After working in Los Angeles as a camera operator as well as the director of photography for the Grammy and Emmy awards for more than thirty years, Nichols was thrilled to work in Jacksonville, Alabama. Nichols was hired as an artist in residence and he has been teaching a variety of different classes at JSU for over a year.

Nichols is having a wonderful time in Jacksonville. “I love the JSU students’ respectfulness and willingness to go the extra mile,” Nichols said. “It’s a joy teaching here!”

Dr. Earl Wade, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, came up with the concept of a film study tour. Together, Dr. Wade and Conroy decided Baton Rouge (where the Twilight series and Battleship Los Angeles were filmed) would be the perfect destination for the study tour.

Through the initiative, Chuck Bush (former actor in Fandango, producer, writer, and director of several family films and television projects) was hired as the tour host. According to Bush, he tried to offer the JSU students as broad an experience as possible during their trip to Baton Rouge.

“We brought in a variety of guys who are experts in different disciplines such as New Orleans based cinematographer Jeremiah Fry and producer Jason Hewitt,” Bush said. “We let the students spend time with our staff, allowing them to learn more about the different aspects of the filmmaking process, discussing the film industry in general, and talking about why they got involved with film.”

During the film study tour, the students got to visit different prop houses, locations, and studios. At the Celtic Media Center, the JSU hopefuls learned about the set of Oblivion, a movie Tom Cruise starred in.

Visiting the Celtic Media Center was a lot of fun, according to student Allie Mosley.

“I honestly didn’t expect a building full of props to be so interesting, but it really was,” Mosley said. “It was a lot like a gigantic, fantastic thrift store full of the most random stuff you can imagine. There were lots of medical props that have been used in House (and pretty much every other modern day show based on medical practices), retro furniture, hats, things you would find at any given bar, animal bones, pinball tables, and a back scratcher that was made with an alligator’s foot and a stick.”

Filming techniques and the parts and pieces of video cameras fascinated Michael Everett.

“There are so many gears, mirrors, and all kinds of things that make a camera work,” Everett said. “I learned that there is a ton of different methods of obtaining a particular shot or scene.”

During the film study tour, the students had the opportunity to put together a short film. After Bush taught the JSU group about storytelling, the students chose to make a reality show parody and named it “America’s Next Top Film Student.” According to Bush, the students utilized all the knowledge they acquired from the acting, screen writing, and camera classes to portray a character in the student film.

“I think the film was very fun and enjoyable,” Bush said. “Everybody had an opportunity to do everything. One person directed while others worked the cameras, sound, and lights. Then everybody flip-flopped, so everybody had a chance take on the different jobs.”

To see the final product, please visit

When the students had some time off, they ate lots of Cajun food and pralines, according to Mosley. They also visited a local shopping center and watched The Dark Knight Rises.

“It wasn’t all work and no play, but there was definitely a lot more work. However, I believe that for film students planning to make a career out of it, it could almost be considered play,” Everett said. “We definitely had fun learning about the work!”

After the students returned to the JSU campus, they went to a few more classes to wrap up what they had learned during their trip, presented a final essay, and took a final exam. Both Everett and Mosley found the class very insightful.

“It was intriguing to get the opportunity to further understand precisely what goes on behind the scenes. That’s the real magic of films, I think,” Mosley said. “A whole lot of work from a whole lot of amazing, creative people goes into film and it’s not really something you tend to think about when you’re stuffing your face with popcorn at the movie theatre.”

According to Everett, people’s imagination is their only limit. “Get out and do it! Make a short film, shoot a silly commercial, or make a music video of your friend’s band,” Everett said. “If you want it, go for it!”

For those interested in film, JSU now offers a minor in film and entertainment technology. Who knows? Maybe Jacksonville will be the set of the next box office sensation!

For more information about the program, visit
© 2012